Networking for Introverts

If you would rather stab yourself in the eyeball with a spork than go to a networking event, this post is for you!

If you self-identify as an introvert, most likely you do not need to take this quiz to determine whether you are an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert (which is a combination of both). If you’re unsure, the quiz is a good starting point. If networking events give you a lot of anxiety, you are in good company.

Here are a few tips for networking while introverted:

Breathe Deeply:  

It is a little-known fact that taking deep breaths can create a relaxation response in the body. Before the event, do this exercise for about five minutes:

Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, counting to four in the in-breath and counting to six on the out-breath.

It is better if you find a quiet place; it doesn’t matter where. You can do this exercise in the elevator, in the bathroom, at your desk before you leave the office, or before you get out of your car. It doesn’t matter if you sit or stand. What matters is that you can feel your belly expanding and contracting with each breath.  You will feel calmer, and this will help you marshal your inner resources.

If you get overwhelmed during the event, excuse yourself and try it again. Your breath is always available to you in times of discomfort.

Have a goal:

Meeting five to ten new people per event is a good goal for extroverts, but meeting one or two new people might be a good goal for introverts.

Introverts tend to hate “small talk,” and prefer deeper, more substantive conversations, and this is possible at networking events, but less likely.

Instead of grabbing their business card and going, you can concentrate on forming a deeper connection with your conversation partner. Also, people appreciate being heard, and listening is one thing that introverts tend to do well.

Pick a More Structured Networking Event:  introvert part savage chickens

Not all networking events are created equal. Yes, there are cocktail parties where everyone is expected to stand around and mingle. There are also more structured networking events:

  • An event where you have to be someone’s guest;
  • A lunch-and-lecture or breakfast workshop; or 
  • A service opportunity where professionals come together to raise money or awareness.

These types of events are more likely to be comfortable for introverts, because there is either a common element (volunteering) or a common experience (sitting at a table with six to eight other people). Talking to the person next to you at a table is more manageable than trying to speak in a large group.

If you have to go to a “happy hour free-for-all,” where you’ve expected to just stand around and wait for people to talk to you, pick a power partner.

Ask Someone to be a Power Partner:

Introverts are generally outnumbered by extroverts. However, introverts and extroverts know each other and interact with each other in some meaningful ways. It would be strategic and wise to invite someone who you know and trust to be a power partner. The person can take the awkwardness out of the equation for you by introducing you, filling in the sometimes-awkward pauses in conversation, and by helping you move through the room.

If you know that someone in your office will introduce you to people, go ahead and ask them to help you at networking events. Beware of office politics here: pick someone you trust.

Know What Your Weakness Is and Work On It:

What is it that is the most terrifying about networking events? Is it:

  • Meeting new people?
  • Making small talk?
  • Promoting your business or ideas?
  • Large crowds?
  • Introducing yourself to someone you don’t know?
  • Making eye contact?
  • Awkward mid-conversation silences?
  • Managing your discomfort?

Pick one thing, and create a goal to get better at it.

Here’s a Strategy That Works for Me:

For me, the nervousness beforehand is about presenting myself as a professional and letting people take me seriously. I introduce myself calmly and confidently, and count to five in my head, and I don’t laugh at myself. This pause gives me the impression of taking myself seriously and invites others to take me seriously.

Generally, I want to be liked, so I can be funny and charming and self-effusive, but, does that make people want to hire me? I try to remember that the goal of these events is to meet people who will hire me to help them with their business.

Before I go to the event, (usually in my car), I sing “I Have Confidence” from The Sound of Music. I don’t even know all the words! After that, I am able to stand up a little taller to present a more confident persona. Then, at the door of the event, I remember that I like people, and I go inside. Then, after about an hour, I need a break. I excuse myself to get more water, or go to the bathroom and take more deep breaths. Then after about two hours, I can leave satisfied.

Good luck to you! Let me know how it goes.